This is the second in a three-part series. Read the introduction to learn how I’m scoring my list and find out about my “special consideration” in PART 1.
See my final five below.
10 – TAYLOR SWIFT at Levi’s Stadium – Aug. 14
At this point in her career, Swift is a pop diva with a country esthetic. Yet she’s got enough alt credentials to really appeal to everyone. That might annoy some reading this, but it’s a killer combination. On this night, there plenty of lasers, guest performers, stage piece trickery and a setlist filled with hit-afterhit-after-hit. When I stopped analyzing, I realized how much fun I was having. The majority of her setlist was pulled from “1989.” It was impressive how little Swift relied on earlier material.
**Swift’s legal team and I came to a compromise. I wouldn’t publicly post live videos and they wouldn’t file any copyright strikes. Visit my YouTube page and do some scrolling.**
9 – FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE at the Masonic – April 8
The time off between records and touring has done Florence Welch a lot of good. “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but finds its own identity. The Masonic gig was her band’s first supporting the new album in the U.S. That new identity is both visual and musical. Welch wore not a flowing, ethereal dress, but black jeans, with a sheer white shirt, a scarf loosely knotted around her neck in the appearance of a tie, and for a couple of songs, a suit jacket. The image portrayed a more masculine, driven and grounded performer. The new songs relied less on Welch’s signature harp and militaristic percussion and more on edgier guitar riffs. Welch interacted with the crowd, and more than any of her previous Bay Area stops, with her band, which included two back-up vocalists and a three-member female brass section.
8 – THE VACCINES at Slim’s – Aug. 7
This London band’s third album, “English Graffiti,” may have garnered little attention in the U.S., but that is an incorrect assessment of its strength. In fact, it’s the most varied of The Vaccines’ career. Seeing the successful quartet in a venue as small as Slim’s was a real treat. In 2013, they sold out the Fillmore, after all. Justin Young, a very capable frontman and rock symbol, worked the tiny stage memorably.
7 – MUSE at Oracle Arena – Dec. 15
Muse have always been more than musicians. They are performers and artists, constantly striving to up their complete performance. On that level, they truly are one of the best bands today and proved once again that they are a force to be reckoned with. Although a malfunction prevented the drones from taking flight at this show, the other production highlights made up for the absence. The band performs in-the-round on a stage resembling a ship from some space adventure far, far away. A large round platform in the center of the arena floor (yes, this “Lazy Müsan” rotates), is flanked by two side stages connected by elevated catwalks. Above the stage, a round screen hangs from a cross-shaped suspension near the ceiling. Sheer sheets descended from the spine to increase capacity for projection. Older material received the biggest fan reaction. Drones highlights included “The Handler,” during which projection onto the screens made it appear as if the musicians were tethered to the strings of a nefarious puppet master. On “Undisclosed Desires,” the band was enlarged to two stories tall in extremely effective hologram fashion. Does Muse’s new material bring anything new to the table? Not really. Does that matter in-concert? Not at all.
6 – FRANZ FERDINAND SPARKS (FFS) at the Fox Theater – Oct. 15
The partnership between the two influential bands proved very fruitful on stage the final show of their tour (and perhaps ever). The guitar pop of Franz Ferdinand blended seamlessly into the synth pop of L.A.’s Sparks, and the voices of Franz’s Alex Kapranos and Sparks’ Russell Mael glide in and out of each other. And with six musicians on stage together, fans got to see sides of each that wouldn’t otherwise be available. I hope this is not the end of their collaboration.